The Design Process: IMAGINE

Imagining creates progress and change. We think about how things could be adjusted to facilitate our future. These may be playful, hopeful for our life, or about our survival. We have images in our mind that connect cobble stones to a game of hopscotch, or we see our dream house next to the beautiful lake shore, or we plan our furniture around our physical abilities. Imagination is powerful, and we can create images that guide us in our doing to fulfil these futures. Sometimes, we need to coordinate our vision with others, and therefore we need to visualise it to them. We need to communicate our images to others, if we want to negotiate their realisation. We can use words, images or things, and arrange them in a particular order, to externalise our visions to others for proposing a change.
To some, these ways of communicating our visions comes naturally. To others, it may require a bit of practice to use the tools of visualising, communicating and proposing ideas. The techniques we use to practice the externalising of ideas, are, for example, the Crazy Eight exercise.

Crazy Eights

For this exercise you need a pen and sheets of A4 paper. Fold the A4 Paper three times in the middle, so you have 8 fields. Now spend 1 minute each per field, set a timer to 60 seconds – yes, it will feel crazy to only have 60 seconds – to sketch your ideas, or variations of one idea. Forcing yourself to move on to the next sketch after 60 seconds creates the velocity that we want to adopt as a mindset, when exploring many possible ideas and aspects. At this point, it is about quantity and not about quality. At the end of the day, it is about finding a vision that we can all share. And it may be many small, fantastic elements that become part of a bigger idea.
Hana Stevenson from fantastic Brighton’s Clearleft has spelt it out for us how Crazy Eights is used: https://blog.prototypr.io/how-to-run-a-crazy-eights-workshop-60d0a67b29a

The Thing from the Future

We also use an exercise that helps us widen our own ideas. Sometimes we feel we are stuck, either in our own thinking, or in negotiating a shared idea. For the purpose of helping us broaden our vision for possible future designs of our topic, we play “The Thing from the Future” (Candy and Watson, 2015). The thing from the future is an imagination game, which guides designers by setting certain parameters towards coming up with their alternative futures. The parameters are set out to give constraints about the ARC of current progress (will it grow, collapse, be ordered and disciplined, or transformed), a TERRAIN describing the contextual landscape, a particular OBJECT the designer should focus on, and the MOOD that describes the experience of that future.
The possible arcs of progress are explained like this:

  • Growth - a future in which “progress” has continued
  • Collapse – a future in which society as we know it has come apart
  • Discipline - a future in which order is deliberately coordinated or imposed
  • Transformation – a future in which a profound historical evolution has occurred

You need to set each of these four parameters, by selecting from a list, in order to have a full set. There are different ways to play this game, and a downloadable version is here: http://situationlab.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/FUTURETHING_Print-and-Play.pdf.
We print the cards, and cut them into squares. We then randomly select one element for each of the four parameters. We think in terms of our design topic (for example, ‘Public transport to University’), but within the given parameters, such as, for example “Grow”, “Memory”, “Vehicle”, and “Serenity”. The game is set to generate fantastic ideas. An it is even more inspiring to think that some of this might become part of our future.

Candy, Stuart and Watson, Jeff. (2015). The thing from the future. Situationlab.org. Accessed at http://situationlab.org/project/the-thing-from-the-future/

New Metaphor

We also use the New Metaphor game, which was developed by Dan Lockton & team of the School of Design at the Carnegie Mellon University. Dan Lockton explains his idea of the use of metaphors in the design process in this video: “The economy is a garden” (https://vimeo.com/327599014). Metaphors can help in the design process as a tool to generate new ideas. Through the process of finding new metaphors, new paths can be opened for finding new views on the world. New views that open the possibility of a shared view onto the problem you are working on in your design project.
Your design topic is your object of design, Thing 1. Your topic may be ‘Commuting to University’. This is your object. It is your view on the object that you want to broaden, in order to find possible ways to transform this object from how it is now into something else that it can be.

Your topic is the object of design, Thing 1. Print the image cards and choose an image card that you can see connecting to your object of design. This will be Thing 2. If you cannot find connections, choose a random card. Now use Worksheet A and write in the top left box the characteristics that you can identify in your current object of design. Write in the bottom right box the characteristics you can see in your image chard. Map the characteristics of the two boxes. Use these to develop a new metaphor. The new metaphor can be a possible path of transformation for your object of design.

We have shown you some of the techniques we use to explore and broaden the spaces of imagination for our design projects.